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The Company of Ghosts (French Literature) (French Literature Series) [Paperback]

Lydie Salvayre , Christopher Woodall

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Book Description

1 Jan 2006 French Literature Series
When a bailiff turns up, a teenager tries to salvage her mother, their dignity and the TV. When a bailiff arrives at a housing project on the edge of Paris to draw up a routine inventory of goods in view of seizure, the reception he receives from Rose Melle and her teenage daughter is more than he has bargained for. Rose, forever unhinged by the trauma of childhood spent under Nazi occupation, mistakes him for a collaborationist thug and assails him with her alternately tragic and hilarious memories of Vichy France. In a narrative that lurches giddily between 1942 and 1997, Salvayre picks at the sores of recent French history, exposing its continuing authoritarianism. "The Company Of Ghosts" won the Prix Novembre in France.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press; Tra edition (1 Jan 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564783502
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564783509
  • Product Dimensions: 19.9 x 16 x 1.5 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,454,551 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


"...novels that make you sit up and take notice, that directly confront you, that shake you up from the very first sentence, warning you that the test is going to be brutal, the dream is going to be dark, and the princess's smile is going to be painful." -- Le Monde

About the Author

Lydie Salvayre is a French writer. Born in the south of France to Republican refugees from the Spanish Civil War, she went on to study medicine in Toulouse and continues to work as a practicing psychiatrist.

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Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memories that Haunt may be real 9 July 2006
By M. Galishoff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is an excellent novel about a mother and daughter living in France in the 1990's. The mother was a child during the Nazi occupation, was raped at age 6 and witnessed her family tortured and murdered by local thugs who became collaborators of the occupation. The mother suffers from a severe mental disorder (likely posttraumatic stress disorder) that has left her disabled. Her daughter is illegitimate from a liaison the mother had years after the war while in a mental institution. The daughter's life is 24-hour care of her disabled mother. The mother lives her life rapidly alternating between 1943 and the present and often mistakes people and current situations for her persecutors of that time. In the midst of this horrible situation, this family, living in poverty, is served with eviction and collection notices by a process server. For most of the book, the process server is a cardboard character, purposely left undeveloped, simply a literary device. He is real and the situation is serious, The unnamed process server proceeds to inventory the family's meager possessions. The daughter attempts to influence the process server by describing the history of her family, particularly her mother who frequently bursts on the scene from her bedroom cursing and accusing the process server of being a collaborator and working for the government of occupation. The daughter's explanations and accounts of her family and mother's violation under the occupation, persecutions and the mental and physical consequences of those horrors are revealed as the process server dispassionately and unmoved goes about his work. The author brings him into the narrative at intervals, subtly and in passing to remind us that he is there and as a reminder that the present is 1996 and not 1943. The process server responds neither in word nor deed to the horrible atrocities and aftermath that we know happened and haunt this family and household as so many ghosts of the past. His intrusion is seen as little different from that of the occupation forces and the corrupt thugs who posed as officials. The process server has come to collect possessions of value and is violating the family. The difference is that this process server is acting under the current law and does not act in any manner other to make a list of possessions of worth. As the daughter's narrative ends, there is a second part of the novel that consists of a lecture given by the process server to others in the field. He spends much time discussing the various reactions of the persons they may encounter, various shams and frauds that are attempted and gives dispassionate advice on how to deal with them. He recounts his interaction with the aforementioned family and describes the mother as an alcoholic who was deranged and delusional and the daughter as trying to seduce him. He acts as if the described atrocities were fiction. In a jarring and disturbing ending he expresses, again dispassionately, his disgust over the mother and daughter's unmerited and vile comments about the people and government who ran France "with dignity" between 1941 and 1944. By denying the past abuses of the Jews and other persecuted people of France during the war, his mentality is little different that that of his predecessors of WWII. A denial takes the worst human suffering and dissipates it in dispassionate bureaucracy. One initially dismisses the mother and daughter's reaction to the process server, their claim of another violation and reliving this event in the shadow of 1943, with pathos but as unreal. The lecture of the process server hits you in the gut that perhaps the perspective of the wounded is not so wrong after all.

The author sets the reader up for a conclusion that will have you thinking and rethinking the seemingly ordinary. As the victims of the age of Nazi terror die, their voices must live on lest we, as the process sever, forget or never learn and risk repeating such harm.
3.0 out of 5 stars Modern, angry, unforgiving: Do I like this book or not? 28 Dec 2010
By labfs39 - Published on Amazon.com
Can injustice be atoned for? Is there a point at which nations can, and should, forgive themselves and move on for atrocities committed decades before? What obligations do the survivors of atrocities have for keeping the memories alive in the public consciousness? These are some of the questions that arose for me as I made my way through this short but difficult book.

The story is much like a one-act play. The setting is a small apartment and the entire action takes place in the space of perhaps three hours. There are only three actors: Rose Mélie, a survivor of the Jewish Action in Vichy France; her eighteen-year-old daughter, Louisiane; and the government official sent to inventory the Mélie's apartment prior to their eviction for failure to pay rent. The scope of the novel, however, is much broader and multi-faceted than this simplicity implies.

Rose was six when her brother, Jean, is killed in a brutal way that forever changes the way she views the world. Rose is unable to psychically leave 1942 and replays the events of that year, and the way they effected her family, endlessly in her mind and aloud to her daughter. Louisiane has spent her entire childhood listening to the historical ravings of her mother and trying to keep things under control. When things get too bad, her mother is institutionalized, and she is sent to foster care. Hard for a young girl who would rather watch soaps and learn about sex. The arrival of the official sets off Rose, who mistakes him for a Vichy militia member, and Louisiane who wants desperately to make things appear normal in the hopes that they might be given a reprieve.

I was unable to fully engage with the novel, despite this rather interesting premise, for a couple of reasons. First, I didn't connect emotionally with any of the characters, all of whom are "difficult to love". Second, the novel is written almost entirely in dialogue, but without the punctuation that makes it easy for a reader to follow along. Finally, the book is just plain difficult. Woven around the plot described above is the analogy of the present representing the collaborationist atmosphere of the past. Just as Rose confuses the two, the reader is led to imagine Rose as the French citizen who does try to speak out against the regime, but is silenced. Louisiane is the person who appeases rather than confronts, hoping to overt disaster. Finally, in the the short piece, "Some Useful Advice for Apprentice Process-Servers", included in the book I read, we hear from the perspective of the official, whose voice only confirms the analogy.
4.0 out of 5 stars Uniquely Wonderful! 9 Jun 2010
By Yolanda S. Bean - Published on Amazon.com
I quite enjoyed this book (in truth, it is more of a novella, being less than 200 pages long). It is translated from French, but the translator did a remarkable job of managing to include and even translate the language-based humour that would be inherent to French speakers. Following the European style, this book does not use quotation marks which, I must admit, made things more than a bit confusing at times since between the mothers' rants, the story is told in the first person point-of-view of her daughter. There were some terrifically lengthy sentences, but these added to the cadence and general aura of insanity. Since the action took place primarily in one set of rooms, during the visit of one process-server, the book had something of the feel of reading a one-act play and I think that this could be successfully (and easily) transferred to that medium. Definitely a unique story, with clever turns of phrasing, this book was a very enjoyable read. However, stylistically speaking, I can see how this book would not have a universal appeal.
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